Bruce Willis and Spencer Breslin, with Emily Mortimer, Lily Tomlin, Chi McBride and Jean Smart.
Russ Duritz is not a happy man.
Sure, he lives in an nice home, drives a cool car and is above all a successful businessman. But all at the expense of being terminally stressed, insomniac, no social life and married to his job. His fortieth birthday is days away, and that is usually a time for reflection, which he does as one would bat away a gnat.
One strange night, Russ discovers an intruder in his posh pad. It’s just an eight-year old boy named Rusty. Before he calls the authorities Russ senses something odd about this kid. That and the toy plane he’s clutching. That and it feels all so familiar. Didn’t he have one of those planes when he was Rusty’s age? That was over 30 years ago.
Wait a minute.
My birthday’s coming up, and that always puts me in a philosophical mood. One more year down. How many more to go? Rate I’m going, this might be the final installment of RIORI. Hope not, not while Scarlett Johanson still breathes and squeezes into black latex. That’s not being charitable, BTW.
On the whole, birthdays are fun even if you don’t celebrate them. You can, rest-assured some dork at your workplace caught wind of your b’day and ordered some cake for your grey ass and all worker friends. Some of those worker friends might take you out for a few after shift for whist and beer. Good times. Maybe your fam will get you a gift. If you’re lucky another cake, ice cream this time. All nice gestures. Once more around the sun. You survived! And back to churning out shrimp cocktail the following day. Maybe this year will be better.
I don’t do anything for my birthday anymore. The last significant birthday deed was renting a car when I turned 25. Didn’t bother campaigning for the presidency at 35. By my record, I’d only rate as the valet at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Heard that diplomats drive some fly rides. All those Accords. When I turned 40 I went to work and got a gift of thorough indifference. Now get to deveining those 10 bales of shrimp.
I hate shrimp.
So I get all reflective come birthday time. Surprise, surprise I tend to get maudlin, too. If you’re a thinking person, you probably do too come that time of year. Reflecting on the time gotten away. Example, I never really wanted to be a chef. It was during the great recession when I made my decision to attend culinary school. The work I was outwardly qualified had dried up, so onto the fallback career. I had studied to be an educator, but again, recession. And we all know schools take the biggest hit when the well is running dry. In short I missed out, and consider that often.
Might be the same for you. The older of us I mean, when the Interweb required a plug. The years wear on and on, and your memory gets longer. You reflect on past glories (like that time at Polk High…), your salad years at college, planting pearls here and there, your high school crush and where they are (prob married with a litter of troglodyte kids. Stupid vaccinations). Former employment, good jobs and sh*tty ones alike. Heck, you learned a lot from both and maybe took away something (like a girlfriend, which was your undoing at your late place of employ. Oops. Love you, Kay). Even mundane stuff like your first piece of sh*t car you bought with your own money, drove to death for years until it imploded outside the DQ you used to take aforementioned crush to every Friday back then. Always check the fluid level in the radiator, always. A Yugo is a rather fragile piece of junk.
Or a fave read you didn’t quite get, but the journey was fun (I’m teething through my third stab at Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. A little luck would be welcome). Or a movie that stabbed you into reality. Or lost friends, lost jobsand lost opportunities. The stuff that makes you stare into the morning mirror. Face it, getting older sucks, but chewing over a lost past sucks even more. The truth digs, as does scraping that dull razor across your neck before you dash to work a devein more shrimp.
I hate shrimp. Did I mention that?
Let’s put the moaning and groaning on hold. When your b’day rears its mocking face again, it’s not all gloom and doom in said mirror. You’ve learned a lot, experienced a lot over the years. You are definitely wiser now than in your callow youth then. The mistakes and successes from the past has molded you into a fuller person. You’ve read a lot of cool books, seen many cool movies, met several cool people and rubbed your eyes enough to understand streaming Netflix’s Runaways into bingeworthy results in a dramatic loss of Cheetos. For shame. Still, another lesson learned based against the wisdom accumulated via many birthdays hence. Such knowledge is a good thing, esp considering your next job interview.
As a caution, I recall something I mentioned about my dislike for the cockroaches of the sea, AKA shrimp.
*sound of beer cans being stomped on*
Time to stop with the editorial. Truth be told, birthdays are ultimately there to remind you of stuff. Mortality. Fortune. Lessons learned and not. Where to go from here. But mostly reflection. And that reflection is usually couched in the existential, “What happened and what if?” I feel that “if” often revolves around the halcyon days of youth. Childhood. Then the scene was wide open. Green fields. Delightful ignorance. NES taking prioriety of school performance (as it should be!). Time to fritter time for wondering. Right? Them’s were the days. No bills. No work. No taxes. No parenting. Just you, sixth grade bullying and Mega Man 2.
But that “if” only occurs after many, many calendar pages get torn off and tossed in the dustbin. Nowadays you look around and weigh things. To cut it short, you wanted to be an astronaut. Now? You want fries with that? Okay, maybe it ain’t that bad. Fries are yummy, after all. I read once an editorial by the late, great s/f writer Harlan Ellison was his definition of success as an adult is an extension of your passions as a kid. I’m paraphrasing. Example: if your fave toy was Legos, you’d grow up to be an architect. If your rode a pet horse then, you’d be a rancher now. If you played drums all the way into high school you might, might find yourself opening for a fledging Gaslight Anthem in some dive bar in Devil’s Crevice, NJ. Stuff like that. Makes sense in a way.
But if you’re like me, birthdays find yourself under you own microscope. How’d I do? I hate to get all negative, but I think a great many of us, despite great reserve, start shaking their fists heavenwards, tempting a storm. Where did my life go? Where did my dreams go? Who the f*ck are the Gaslight Anthem?
The flipside is true also, I think. No matter one’s accomplishments, there’s a nagging voice all about, “Where do the years go?” You presently have a good job, money in the bank, a nice family, a reliable car and a vintage, working NES in the man cave. But is this all there is? I’m still not an astronaut, dammit.
Well, not yet.
Or not then…
Image is everything, at least according to Russ Duritz (Willis). He’s a special consultant, an “image consultant,” as it were. His job entails dispensing advice how to make the bad look good, both literally and metaphorically. Make the questionable appear legit. Recommend the right haircut. Russ makes his living based on artifice. And he does not care for it lately.
He might be good at his job of constructive schadenfreude, but it sure makes a lonely life regardless of his acumen. He’s fast approaching a Jerry Maguire moment, as well as an impending 40th birthday. It’s that age where youth is over, and now the past. Bitter nostalgia.
One night after sweating over his latest mark, the TV starts blaring. He follows a trail of popcorn and discovers some 8-year old kid (almost 9) named Rusty (Breslin) has set up shop in his living room. Russ grills him. Where did you come from? What are you doing here? Where’d you get the popcorn?
Rusty doesn’t know. He just found himself in Russ’ pad, dicking around with his toy plane, and feeling very lost. So Russ sweats the kid like one of his vainglorious clients. What’s your scene? You lost? Why do you look so damned familiar?
Well, after sharing stories (and scars, and birthmarks, and memories), it smells like Rusty is Russ, 30 years behind. A pudgy, curious, scared l’il Russ, had inexplicably been warped from the 1960s into the smack dab of the 00s. Face to face with his cranky future self. Russ wonders if there’s a lesson happening here.
A piece of that insists that many major errors went down between Rusty growing into bitter Russ. It’s a nasty image.
And where the crap is Chester anyway…?
Years ago, there was some Disney-smelling junket heavily promoting The Kid. From that I learned that WIllis took the role of Russ to be involved in a movie that his kids could watch with no grease. I guess after a stream of successful R-rated action/violent/weirdo movies like Pulp Fiction, 12 Monkeys, The Fifth Element, The Sixth Sense, and/or UnbreakableThe Kid would be okay for Scout to see. She was 11 when Kid dropped. Okay there.
I’m willing to wager that Scout, Rumer et alknew Dad made his mark as a tough guy action type starring in defiantly R-rated movies. As well he did and still does. Kids ain’t dumb. Maybe the idea (ploy?) was to ingratiate his brood at take them on a family-friendy field trip. Is it a coincidene that Willis divorced from Demi Moore the year Kid was released? Probably. Makes me wonder though. Divorced dads circle the wagons often.
So what if this was a deperate plea. Before John McLane ever uttered a “Yippee-ky-ay, mofo” he was comedic actor. Really. I know. I’m just as surprised as you are. It’s hard to remember Wills as bumbling dick opposite Cybill Shepard on TV’s “Moonlighting.” Or his first starring movie role as loser-in-love paired against a very hot Kim Basinger in Blake Edwards’ screwball rom-com Blind Date (highly underrated in my book, esp if you dig Laurel & Hardy). Willis’ second onscreen role was in Sunset, a swipe at old school Westerns, where he played the role of Tom Mix, a bloated John Wayne-esque superstar who eventually quit Hollywood and ran away to join the circus. Literally. In simpler terms, Willis got his start as a clown. Then Hans and crew took over and looted Nakatomi Tower. Merry Xmas, an action stalwart is born, for good or for ill. What did Scout think, all too young to see Die Hard?
I’m betting nothing. Chances are she never saw Blind Date. Most of you didn’t either. Doesn’t matter. I’m also betting the laundry list above of Willis’ first foray into movies are on no one’s key Willis top tens. So for whatever reason—kiddies squealling or no—with Kid, Bruce jumped feet first back into the comedy meatgrinder. After over a decade of thrwarting terrorists, bouncing through time and rescuing his dad’s poop-stained watch it was time for a change. And, boy, Bruce needed a refresher course on how to use those atrophied comic chops.
For being promoted as an effervescent family comedy, Kid sure is dour. That’s what I tasted at the outset. A sort of mean-spiritedness. We understand Russ is not a happy camper, but to let his regret and passive-aggressive bullying drive his character does not a family friendly protag make. Willis is the anti-Willis here; no clowning to be seen. Heck, even John McClane was a warmer Joe than fussy Russ, and folks were trying to kill him. So now we’re supposed to get behind this guy ready to crack up? Yep. All lights are go. It’s a Disney film, after all. Do not stray from the course.
It’s a drudge, I won’t lie, but Kid is a drag from go, mostly from Willis being such a Sour Patch Kid. Between the decade of Blind Date and Die Hard 2, Willis lost all but his basal comic skills (read: one liners) essential to a flick like this. If Willis’ duty was to star in a family film with his kids in mind, chances are his kids didn’t want to smell and acrid flak. That being said, Willis is too brittle here to make a polite impression. Right, all our jobs suck, including the ones that do indeed suck. The action genre has been kind to Bruce, but not to his range. Watching this makes one pine for David Addison. Willis’ rusty gift for comedy is, well, very rusty here.
Speaking of Rusty, here we have an alternate, and a much needed foil at that. Young Spencer Breslin. Genius role of casting. Cutting to the meat, I expected the diminutive version of Russ to be petulant, whiny and addicted to his own boogers. I was pleasantly surprised, nay, shocked that Breslin was not only down to earth but dare I say endearing and (urgh) cute. Remember how Tom Hanks nailed the whole man-child schtick in Big? Right, except here with Rusty it flipped the script. How can such an honest, nice, mostly well-behaved 9-year old morph into the crank that is Russ?
Like I said, foil. Russ would not be such a hard case without Rusty nagging is aging ass. The movie’s called The Kid, right? That kid ain’t Rusty. It’s the idea Rusty represents to Russ: curiosty and wonder. Image consultant? Yeah, that’s a thing. Molding reality to fit your quarter. Artifice. Kids don’t pull that. If some yowwen steps up and tells you flat out you’re fat, you are. Enjoy those Cheetos, m’man. Breslin comes more across like, “Can I have some Cheetos?”
Russ can’t make a viable smoothie from Cheetos. You get it.
(BTW, Mortimer is totally out of place here. She’s the female. She’s just there. If you’re not doing anything to actviely drive the plot, back to the trailer with ya. That’s all. Moving on.)
This is a time-out-of-joint morality tale. Russ is a jerk, and his life reflects that. Rusty’s a simple kid, seeing the world how it is and how it should be a lot cooler. Right, right, right. If only Russ would owe up to his junior version and aim to change his wicked ways, would Rusty get…what? His toy plane back? The coolest dog ever? Nope. No wishes to made on Rusty’s star. Just Russ wrangling with his believed wasted past. It’s kinda bitter sweet, but it mostly tastes bitter.
Speaking of bitter (me? Nah), there are some pummeling fouls to Kid‘s execution. Drum roll…the pacing! It’s poor. I mean desititude. Things are waaay too drawn out, like we the audience are too slow to get what’s going on. Truth be told, most of the time wtching the movie I was, “Where are we going with this?” Kid meanders, and if you’re a thinking person you’re quoting Python halfway through the second act: “Get on with it!” The film’s all languid and lazy for its own ends, but to what? Zzz.
All that rot about pacing brings us to the third act. It takes forever to heat up, but it does. Thankfully. Some just reward crawling through this dour kiddie flick. If the only rest of the movie was like this, because the finale was actually pretty satisfying in it’s standard Disney way. For those of you wringiing your hands in anguish for the first two-thirds of the movie wondering when, oh when will Bruce ever warm up to Rusty, your patience is sort of rewarded.
We get to the bottom of this time-hopping mystery with gusto and info overload. After an interminable slog through “are we there yet?” director Turtletaub finally lets up have the scales fall from our tired eyes and see the drama and humor the story taunted us with all those zillion hours before. Chemistry blooms between our May-November pair of Billy Pilgrims. The guts of the matter is smeared all around, barely hinted at earlier. That doofy biplane bit gets explained (sort of). It’s like a three ring circus with all three rings shoved together into one big wad. I have to admit, I kinda enjoyed the resolution, disjointed as it was.
Sigh. “If I only knew then what I know now.” There’s a classic. Well, you gotta give Kid credit for turning that saw on is dull blade. Rusty knew more than Russ forgot on his march to middle age. Sure, unconvential, and at many times a bit to conceptual and overreaching. If this was the family flick Willis was aiming for, the scenarists should’ve steered clear from Sartre as a refernece.
Ah, well. Got the dog, right?
(That was not a spoiler! You saw that crapola coming a lightyear away!)
Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Too. Damned. Slow. Especilly for a family film. From Disney, no less. Bad dog. Bad, bad dog.
“Nice tie.” Ugh.
Willis is a lefty? Huh.
“We are up.”
There’s a diner on the airstrip? Of course not (wink).
“I don’t have time to go crazy!”
The bullying thing. Is Russ’ grown up job a passive-agressive version of smacking down playground thugs from recesses long gone? I’d like to believe so.
So that’s the best way to use a treadmill. Smart kid.
Tom Hanks, Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones, with (quite the supporting cast of) Barry Henley, Eddie Jones, Diego Luna, Chi McBride, Michael Nouri, Kumar Pallana and Zoe Saldana.
All Viktor wanted to do was get home. But some stupid coup d’etat explodes in his homeland, and he’s stranded at Kennedy Airport, carrying a passport nobody recognizes.
What to do, what to do now? That answer is pretty basic. Since Viktor has no recourse, quarantined to the transit lounge, he simply goes on living. By his lonesome. Such as it has become.
But Viktor doesn’t have to go it alone. This is JFK International Airport, after all. Someone is bound to lend a hand.
Hey. Welcome back.
So you check out Munich yet? For those who did, bravo! For those who didn’t you’re most likely a newb here. Welcome anyway.
Today is a carryover from the last installment, my scrutiny of Steven Spielberg’s polarizing historical fiction Munich about how the Mossad waxed the “terrorists” who waxed the Israeli track team in the 1972 Summer Olympics in the titular city. This is the second part of a two-part study of the esteemed Steven Speilberg’s hiccups in the 21st Century. The first half, my intrepid examination of his Munich bore some fruit. After watching it (and thereby disturbed by it) illustrated the man has not strayed very far from his craft and/or muse.
As with a few earlier installments here, seeing the subject matter of this brief study we’re gonna divvy up some rations. I shall employ one intro pertinent to the matter at hand (Spielberg being the crop of the cream) and a second snarky, bilious intro based on my fevered, judgmental, feverish judgments. Thank you and you’re welcome.
The man’s an easy target.
In the pantheon of esteemed movie directors, Spielberg has earned his bones and has rightfully scrabbled to the top of the heap. In the grand scheme of cinematic things, such is no small feat. After all, “movies” took hold in France (depending on who you’d ask), and from the Francos theatre on the big screen usurped the eventual snobbery dividing the theatre goers against the cinemaphiles. Like all rivalries, you can’t have one without the other. There could be no Coke without Pepsi.
Spielberg’s cinematic dichotomy has been written into clay ever since his Jaws coined the phrase “summer blockbuster.” His CV wanders between fantastical and harrowing. Precious few of his outings cast an audience over the spell of “sentimental,” but that’s there. Sometimes it borders on treacle, but that Brit molasses is sweet and heady, therefore tough to resist. C’mon, you have to be made of stone not to at least sniffle when you see ET REDACTEDby a helpless Elliot. But sometimes sentimentality can grow out of hand, curdle and become maudlin. Sorry Steve, but with Always your slip was showing. Same with Hook. Hell, especially with AI (Kubrick should’ve stayed the course, I tell ya).
So there are a few, minor bloops on the man’s resume that might tarnish his rep for when his heart was hiked up too far on both sleeves. Or until BFG 2 gets dropped. Whatever comes first. The matter there is that once you reach the top of the heap is finding a way to stay there, all the while keeping both your rep and cachet intact. Well that’s not possible. Even the most revered directors drop a turd in the punchbowl once in a while, blinded by the power and glory of their vision. It’s necessary though. It’s the Coke vs Pepsi paradigm: you can’t measure the good without having the bad rear its pus-filled head once in a while. Hence Pepsi Crystal.
The great many of Spielberg’s movies are like pizza: when it’s good, it’s good and when it’s not you still have some pizza. Like Lou Reed said, “My week beats your year.” In the final analysis, the man’s work speaks for itself, and in turn speaks to a lot of audiences. That can’t be denied. But sometimes—sometimes—the man overplays his hand as well as keep them cards too close. When it comes to establishing a personal, emotional grip on the audiences’ attention you can’t have it both ways; you can’t mix artsy-fartsy with Kleenex. Get too squishy that way and off the top of the heap you may slither.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve got a soft spot an AU wide for sentimental, treacly films. Gotta have those guilty pleasures, right? Forrest Gump, On Golden Pond, One Crazy Summer and so on. I’m not made of stone, either. But I can be pushed towards petrifaction. The envelope can only go so far. On more than one occasion (as I listed earlier), the man’s tried my emotional patience. Sometime for the good, though, but mostly it’s been lemon juice-dipped fingernails on a chalkboard hewn from pumice.
In other words: Steve, know when to rein it in.
Sometimes it’s good, if not fun to let a talented director to run riot with their treacly id. Once in a while. The other times when that goes down, said director better have a damned interesting script to back up their Hallmark moments.
That being said, The Terminal holds up better than Always. And far better than Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
That was a joke, you dolts. Show some emotion already…
Air travel sucks.
I recently read a story in the New York Times op-ed section from a seasoned and presently retired commercial airline pilot. He spoke as to debunk the myths surrounding the so-called luxury of the Jet Age. The man flew planes from the late 60s into the late 90s, and according to his experiences in the air and out, trade-offs were few, far between and interchangeable when it came to the “comfort” of flying the friendly skies. His argument was akin to Pete Townshend’s proclamation of, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” For the record, the FAA was the boss all along.
The pilot compared traveling business class today with its sardine-like seating and the dinky, ever fluttering screen embedded in the headrest in front of you with yesterday’s roll down trundle beds (that took up three rows of seats and cost as much) and panopticon movie screen scrolled down for one feature for the duration of the three day flight as not very far removed. At least these days passengers aren’t choked into lung cancer via open smoking recycled through the already recycled air. That and non-Whites are now permitted into First Class. With those roll-down beds and blowjobs. Kidding. There are no roll-down beds in First Class, just non-allergenic blankets. So I’ve heard. Now turn your head and spit.
Anyway. According to the article, the only thing that has never changed in air travel is the being on the ground part. The waiting. In the airport. Being poked and prodded and x-rayed and having your gums inspected and it costs how much to weigh my bags? Now get in this line to get into that line.
Admit it. Sometimes when you have a layover it feels like it lasts longer that your actual flight, if it would ever land on time. You’re stranded in the terminal, what with all its food courts, book stores, communal charging stations and a billion foreign tongues chattering with urgency. It can be surreal. It’s like another planet. It’s disorienting. The only thing that can keep you metaphorically grounded is your aging flight pass and happy hour at the nearest watering hole. It’s five o’clock somewhere, right?
Yeah, at your destination. Five days away. I don’t know about you…wait, that’s not right. I do know you. We’ve all been stuck with a layover if we travel by air. Sometimes it’s a few hours, sometimes it’s many, many, many hours. We’re talking sprawl out on the nearest empty row of chairs hours. You’re in fishbowl. It’s a given that it’s no fun to wait around for a flight, a matter completely out of your control, at the mercy of the aviation gods. It’s a test of patience. So chill. Ride along. Make the best of it. Watch the people scattering hither and yon, for you may be scattering some day also. Pulsing humanity. Big airports are a microcosm of the human condition in action. Seeking sanction and/or seeking escape.
Yeah, yeah. That truck sounds so heady. But (surprise) I got a tale to tell about the oddness of said human condition that happened to me in an airport. Seems relevant. That and it happened in Utah, so that carries some weight.
It was August, and I headed out the summer after graduating college to visit my then girlfriend who took a job as a park ranger in the Black Canyon in Colorado. Never been to the Rocky Mountain range, and was curious as to how she conducted business. She promised the elegance of Colorado’s high desert country, as well as an easy descent into said canyon beckoning one of those Ansel Adams-esque streams flowing at the bottom. Crystal clear water and a keen view of the rising Coloradan cliffs. Sounded good to me.
I departed Philadelphia International for a five hour flight to the Centennial State. The cross country flight was unremarkable. The three hour layover in Utah was something else. Believe it or not, whenever I had flown in the past I was mercifully spared super-long layovers. Maybe an hour at most. Even my high school jaunt to Ireland only trapped me in Heathrow for a bit over sixty minutes. Call me lucky.
Stuck outside Salt Lake City was a different story. Three hours. That’s the first set of a Dead show there. It was the late 90s. Mobile phones just made calls. No Wi-Fi. Michael Crichton still a hot topic at the local newsstand. Boredom set in quick, as well as getting all fidgety for lack of a traveling companion. That and queuing up in the proto-TSA security line made me edgy. Hope the crack team with the wands wouldn’t find that stash of hash crammed in my ears.
Kidding (I wish). I trudged my way along the line to get prodded in the name of safety, chatting up this young woman who was just as bored as I. Never caught her name, but we BS’d as we waited. We came through scott free—ears intact—and decided to kill some of a lot of time at one of the many bars. She recently finished school and welcomed me for a few. Over cocktails we talked about our destinations and where we were from. It was a real “single serving friend” moment, to quote Tyler Durden. She was en route to Colorado also, to start a new life. Something about recovery and living with her sister who had recently given birth to her first kid. Single mom, offered an opportunity for my single serving to get her head together. No judgments from me; I was intrigued.
I spewed my bile and she suffered me pretty well, probably since I offered to pick up the tab. We took in the scenery, the masses moving to and fro. I pulled my recent degree in English and Philosophy out of my ass and got all existential on her, remarking on the surrounding, pulsing humanity. She dug and told me more about her microcosm of addiction and hanging with “the wrong crowd.” She showed me a fresh tat on her arm, something tribal. She called it a milestone, a change in her life and what it might lead to. Sorta like true north. The whole chit-chat seemed to be all about where we were going, reflection—satori—in the busy shadows of hundreds chasing their flights.
We killed enough time for her to finish her layover. I ran with her to her respective gate and bid her good luck. “See ya around” and such. She embarked and that was that. Another nugget of humanity that could only get sifted through one of America’s many airport terminal screenings. Funny how a chance encounter with a stranger makes for some well-killed time in a building full of strangers hell-bent for stranger tides. I waited out my final hour of laying over thumbing through a journal or something, lamenting the batteries in my Discman were dead. Late 90s, remember?
Coda: almost a week into my vay-cay with the park ranger girlfriend, we had to venture out to the Costco for groceries. I wanted to stock up on the necessities of my climb down the Black Canyon. Clif Bars, bottled water, oxygen tank (that would come later, actually and really). I got into my head to kill some time back at her cabin we needed to build some Lego sets. No cable, no Internet, no nothing. Why not? Those esteemed Danes launched their new Ninja sets that summer, and I had a hankering.
While rifling through the boxes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I figured it belonged to my girl, ready to scold me for considering such a frivolous purchase. I was wrong. It was my single serving friend, smiling, pushing a stroller with a sleeping infant. I was so surprised to see her again I could only grin and say, “Hi!” F*cking backwoods Colorado, a lifetime away from Salt Lake, her new neice snoozing in the stroller. The damned Costco of all places. She smiled back, waved and made her way down the aisle. That was all.
Funny what connections can be made on the road. The passing parade sometimes lends you a chance to jump onto a float. And float is an apt term. Stuck in the melee of travel, you get get alone amongst hundreds of strangers. Not surpring how the desperate lonely there seek out some kind of connection, over drinks or no. Now that I scratch at that memory, I remind myself that my friend had only recently graduated high school. Nineteen years old. Far too young to drink in an airport bar. But I was paying, and vouched for her and the bartender left us alone. Figured she’s seen this setup before.
Funny what sticks, and what didn’t. All I knew about then is that I had a hangover for the record, and met another stranger who helped me out of boredom. With long distance travel, sometimes that’s all you need to make the wait not seem like waiting.
More about the ride back later. The apocryphal trip home…
Viktor Navorski (Hanks) is a man without a country. Literally.
During his stay in NYC political upheaval has torn his homeland asunder. To put it plainly his country of Krakozhia doesn’t exist anymore. Viktor’s citizenship—his very nationality—has been revoked. He can’t go back home, because technically it ain’t there no more. So now he’s stuck JFK airport’s international arrivals terminal for the long haul. A very long haul, until some loophole in customs come to light.
This isn’t that uncommon in the historical annals of international air travel. Sometimes travelers can’t get to their desired destination for myriad reasons. Political matters, yes, but at least there’s a place to go to. Normally Viktor’s plight would be handled with a minimum of fuss, drenched in paperwork, red tape and waiting on a phone call returned from the Krakozhian embassy.
Normally. There is a spanner in the works at JFK regarding Viktor’s exit: customs director Frank Dixon (Tucci) and his impending promotion. See, our castaway is a prime example—albeit of a unique circumstance—of what Customs tries to avoid. Prevent would be a better word. Displaced peoples. Dixon has been zealous in his duties, his reputation impeccable. His responsibilities keeping JFK ship-shape have never floundered, so Dixon’s on the deserved up-and-up.
Now Frank has Viktor. Quite the possible blemish on his sterling record. This will not stand, so to unload his misguided frustrations and ire, Frank makes Viktor’s non-life a bureaucratic hell. Sign this, sign that. Don’t do this and don’t do that. How dare does this backwater Eastern Bloc yahoo screw with his smooth-running airport?
Due to international law and basic protocol, Dixon can’t just toss the waylaid Viktor out onto the street, nor can he send him back “home” either. The guy’s stuck there in the IAB, forced to etch a new life as a refugee with no cash, no English, with just his luggage and the clothes on his back.
Oh, and his can of peanuts. Can’t forget the peanuts…
I had to watch TheTerminal in two sessions. It was over two hours long, I got tired and had to get to work the next day at an ungodly early hour. That and my attention started to waver by the start of the second act. When I start watching the timer, such does not bode well for a positive critique of the weekly mangling.
My attention started to fail when I began to silently ask the movie, “Where are we going with this?” (perhaps also to the two or nine beers I had consumed). To put it quick, Terminal had got to be one of the most winding road trip movie I ever saw. And seeing our protag never gets to go anywhere outside the airport also made for a weird viewing experience. Don’t misunderstand that. The Terminal is about going places, but it’s all inward, revolving about our waylaid hero Viktor. The atmosphere is alluding to the guy finishing his journey, by hook, crook or redeemed passport book, but the whole process is akin to that Rush lyric (quit moaning): “The point of a journey is not to arrive.” Whatever that means.
But think about it. Another cliche: getting there is half the fun. Precious few films I’ve just given up on here at RIORI. Most because they were boring, insipid, poorly written or a melange of alla dat. I lose patience. The whole timer watching thing. Darted my eyes up and down between the film and the Blu-Ray readout. Like I said: does not bode well for this duck.
Then I remembered Terminal was a Spielberg flick, and the man often takes his time setting up the story. Beat as I was, I wasn’t so thick to give up so soon. The first act of Terminal was not boring, insipid, or poorly written. But it was rambling. Couldn’t figure where Viktor’s odyssey was headed. Barring the hook/Maguffin of the peanut can, The Terminal felt like rote Spielberg. Still I maintained enough curiosity to keep going. Even if it took two nights. Three, actually. I said I was late and it was tired.
Halfway through my viewing I remembered a short interview with Spielberg courtesy of AMC. It wasn’t a kitchen table thing, just a short-lived gimmick the network employed to promote new movie remakes (in theatrical or soon-to-be theatrical release) against the originals in their library. The example: dateline 2005. Steve was going to unleash his version of HG Wells’ War Of The Worlds that summer, so AMC did their due diligence in broadcasting Byron Haskins’ original 1953 outing about malevolent Martians laying waste to humanity one Saturday evening. Remastered!
I really dug the original, and sorry, forget director Haskins’ vision. This War was special effects guru George Pal’s baby all the way that time out (I believed after eventually watching Spielberg’s version, he paid more homage to Pal’s vision rather than Byron-what’s-his-tits). I learned later that Pal’s take was a thinly veiled allegory about Communist invasion—both mindset and body—seeping into post-war America, what with all it amazing consumer and technological advancements (read: modern conveniences. Who would’ve though self-cleaning ovens could shake the Iron Curtain so?). When I was 12, I just dug the tension, desperation and very cool, ahead of its time F/X. Did I mention that?
During those fateful weekend viewings, Steve shilled his new project between commercials. Naturally he laid much praise on Pal’s movie. More on the F/X, natch. He also shared his muse that drove his version. Perhaps also inspired by the second into third act storyline of the original film, Steve brought up the notion of the “refugee experience.” This left-field musing caught my attention (right before the sponsor Scope tore me out of my reverie). From an alien invasion film? Really?
Then I finally caught Spielberg’s version. Despite the violence, ear-crushing Dolby digital and an out-of-place Tom Cruise, I grokked to where the man was going. Great swathes of Spielberg’s film involved desperate humans bolting for survival, their country in upheaval, fleeing for shelter and REDACTED a crazed Tim Robbins. Folks driven for normalcy via wit, grit and both. Steve’s War in that light was a culmination of sorts regarding literal refugee stories like Empire Of The Sun and The Sugarland Express, if not Jaws and Close Encounters in a metaphorical sense.
The Terminal is a very literal refugee experience. But from the inside out. Within Spielberg’s healthy id and his sentimental superego. Viktor is the uber innocent abroad, but like Rush alluded it’s not Viktor’s destination that really matters, It’s how he manages to survive, a la Empire. On the run the whole time. Not from invading aliens. From time. And a dogged government official. Gotta respect the FAA.
Hanks’ Viktor is indeed a refugee. So when plunked into an environment not of his own making, what to do? Right. Create a suitable (new) life, if only to establish a new normal and keep sane. Once I woke up and carried on after the second act and into the third, my befuddlement leaned into empathy for our hapless hero. It’s made clear at the outset that Viktor is no rube. Sure, there’s a language barrier. But that’s it. I don’t know about you (and the following might be on the cusp of racist), but where I work a great portion of my co-workers serve English as a second language. Half of the time Spanish, Farsi and Arabic spoken there. I only know enough Spanish to know when someone is talking about me (“Se hombre tiene schnozzola grande“), and I’ve never had a three day layover in Riyadh, so there.
That irks me. Not the non-layover. But feeling dumb that I have this lingual deficiency. Constantly being reminded of my insular American-ness makes me feel like, well an American and a casual Trump disciple. So I’ve been accused. In Farsi. Our Viktor isn’t dumb, regardless of how Americans regard non-Americans who don’t savvy the language.
That being said, I harken back to a recent installment (#70, Garry Marshall’s Georgia Rule) where I offered to critic of that film a favor. I owe AllMovie critic Terry Seibert a dinner, too. This time with a glass of wine. Like I said, I was a tad befuddled by where the hell Spielberg was taking me with The Terminal. Seibert sent me on the course. That aforementioned curious tableau The Terminal offered with a two-plus day viewing demanded me to check out AllMovie’s take. Like I said I’m a “believe it when I see it (literally)” kind of guy, but once in a while I get all confuzed and need some insight. Seibert’s take set me straight.
Better put, Seibert gave me some perspective. Tom Hanks is a good, reliable actor. A 21st Century Jimmy Stewart. But Hanks CV has been rather spotty overall compared to his legacy contemporary. Sure, Hanks eventually hit a stride in the early-90s, but only after bumbling through his salt mine 80s. Can’t really think of many good Hanks flicks between being Kip for two measly seasons of Bosom Buddies and the doggie slobber that was Turner And Hooch. Not to say there weren’t some bright spots peeking from behind clouds of pratfalls and goony histrionics. There was Big, of course. A breakthrough. But also minor goodies like Punch Line, Splash and to a lesser degree Nothing In Common, his first stab at drama. Why cite these and not the chewy goodness of Dragnet and The Man With One Red Shoe (better not to ask)? Listed above suggested the key to Hanks’ appeal that Seibert plainly said about the actor’s motivation in The Terminal.
Hanks is a good listener. Or rather, his characters on screen are good listeners. When they carefully take in the world around them—or dumped into, like Viktor—they take the necessary time to figure out what’s going on and what to do with it, as well as thoughtfully interact with the other characters. That’s when the Viktor’s of Hanks’ oeuvre take flight. Even when screaming at a volleyball.
Along with Big, Forrest Gump (a no-brainer, so to speak) and even Saving Private Ryan, The Terminal gets its proverbial mileage from Hanks observing his environment and weighing the options offered up by people he meets along the way. The aforementioned films have ensemble casts, as does Terminal. The only difference is that our protagonist is not part of the ensemble. Not really.
Here’s how that works. Our setting—the titular terminal—is the real protagonist of the movie. Viktor’s just its avatar. JFK International a federal law teems. May not be Salt Lake City (but then again, where is?), but I’ll bet you a silk pajama that at least a million travelers tear through that airport each week in a running at full clip OJ Simpson fashion. In a good way (I think). And despite Viktor’s claustrophobic cultural exile, we sure can see a lot of space. Said space allows Viktor to “explore America,” get some bearings and permits our Cold War Gump to take us on the trip also. The terminal—a world unto itself—lets us be Hanks’ Link to JFK’s Hyrule.
You’re welcome, Switch users and abusers.
What I’m driving at there (“It’s dangerous to travel alone! Take this” Ha ha and sorry) is how the many lives fold into Viktor’s adventure. What I’m getting at here is the supporting cast. At heart, Terminal is a character study. Sure, Viktor is our avatar against the backdrop of the omnipresent terminal, but how he wends his way towards whatever depends almost solely on (as Blanche’s been over-quoted) “the kindness of strangers.” We have a lot of cool strangers indeed to rely on here. Barring Viktor, but not snubbing the principals, the motley, reluctant crew at his sides really makes Hanks shine. He’s a listener, right? At first glance, Hanks’ language barrier looks like only be used for derivative comic effect. It’s only later that we learn it’s his only defense against being regarded as some patsy or rube. Viktor ain’t dumb. He’s perceptive. Also earnest. To the people around him and later rally around him. Or don’t.
That’s good there. Let’s start with Viktor’s nemesis, Frank. Tucci is always great at being smarmy. It’s his signature, and it works wonders here as the antagonist. Frank’s not a bad guy, just a tad overzealous in his job. We know folks like that, worked for folks like that. Are folks like that. Tucci’s Dixon is a prime example of the old saw: characters don’t have to be likable. Maybe not even relatable (likable’s red-headed stepchild). No. They have to be interesting. What’s Frank’s damage? Beyond the demands of his (potential) new post? Felt kind of a Napoleon complex here, and not just cuz Hanks is 6′ and Tucci is a subaverage 5’7″ (really. Those stats are correct. I Googled it, and I’m a lame-o. That stat is also correct). Dixon’s the classic case of someone who has something to prove to himself by proving it to everyone. A real heavyweight. Against the patient, curious, resourceful and without a network Viktor, his ire and contemptuousness makes for a delicious brew of conflict. Sure, Tucci comes over as a bit over the top in his pursuit, but it feels…well, like natural acting. He’s slimy (for a good example, watch Big Night or The Core, covered here earlier). His slow burn works especially well as Dixon’s underlings begin to regard clever Viktor with more respect than their boss. Like I said, Dixon’s not a bad guy. He’s just a bad listener.
The supporting cast was awesome, and I’m not just talking the actors. Like the terminal, the folks on the fringes add to the world as human fishbowl microcosm (did that make sense?). As Viktor attempts a new life in exile, he bumps into a lot of other displaced persons along the way. Viktor may be alone in a crowd, but that makes him the ideal pinion for the often invisible people that make an airport run, run. Thanks to “local hero” Viktor we get to meet the “real New York.”
I must admit, I really loved the supporting players here. All touchstones of Viktor’s muddled psyche, and all trying to point the way, if only in a low-rent, surreal kinda fashion. Each minor player had their own fleshed-out story. Most ancillary players in an ensemble film are usually just chess pieces shoved around to keep the narrative dutifully chugging onwards. Not here. Chi McBride, of whom I am quite the fan (ever since his turn as cigar-chewing, philosopher king janitor Heavy Gene on The John Larroquette Show back in the ancient 90s) was a delight. Channeling Gene here, his baggage tosser Joe is brash, yet still savvy to the needs of the anonymous millions he disservices (and quite cagey in scoping out their valuable errata). The guy knows stuff and has no misgivings about waxing poetic about the basic needs of people. His whole schtick reminds me fondly of that Robert Fulghum essay about chicken-fried steak (visit your local library). Joe is the guru Viktor needs to get his sh*t together, while all the while gathering more “sh*t.” Namely, finding your place in the midst of life, wherever that place may be. Now play cards.
Diego Luna was not an actor I was immediately familiar with, but (as they say, whoever they are. They is usually me, and I don’t know anybody) he “has that face.” Right; I saw him in Elysium, also covered here (vol 3, installment 1) and did some voice work for the well-received Book Of Life. He also did this little thing later called Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. So that. Guy’s been around. Here? He’s the hapless romantic figure. An oft dodgy prospect in most roles of such ilk. But I giggled a lot here thanks to his performance. That’s right: giggled, and not in a down-the-nose kinda way. Luna’s Enrique was a sweet, hapless romantic, a la Roberto Begnini and starring towards piece of Viktor’s fractured presence.
Did I mention that thing? That I found the supporting cast as representing aspects of Viktor’s psyche? Like a Greek chorus? The terminal being the grey matter dictating Viktor’s adventure, the minor players serves insight into our hero’s fractured voyage. If Chi was the sage—a wiseass sage to be sure—then Luna was the romantic, soft for stalwart Saldana and using Viktor’s supposed innocence as an ideal Cyrano. Must’ve sparked something in Viktor’s imagination, as well as his unwanted isolation to attempt to get all close to Amelia.
Ah. Sorry to be so abrupt (no I ain’t. This yer first time here?). Here we take the pipe. Jones’ Amelia is too fluffy and not fleshed out, perhaps on purpose. If that’s the case, then boo, Steve. Right on, she’s nice on the eyes, yes, but as a valuable addition to the chorus? Not so much. She comes across as an afterthought; some sort of device—perhaps a MacGuffin—to bolster Viktor’s unwinding story. Don’t get me wrong. Jones’ is a decent actress, often sly and funny. Some claim she’s pretty. She’s neither here (not the pretty part. She looks like my wife when I want her to. Love you, Seej! Don’t change the locks!). I figure we gotta have some wart festering in a tale like this. A cast of tens needs at least one square peg, right? Uh, wait. Dixon filled that slot. Jones had only three distinct spots here, and almost all of it fluttery and spineless, like she knew her role was superfluous and either incapable or unneeded of rising to the likes of, say, Kumar Pallana’s Yoda-like Gupta.
He was a trick, meaning he fooled me. Y’ever come across a guy who’s a real pest? Well-meaning and sharp but lacking the social skills to know when to shut the f*ck up? I work with a guy like that. Maybe you do too. Story time! Yet again! Shut up!
The kitchen I sweat at has at least three utility guys on the clock all day long. Utility? Read: dishwashers. One of them is a loud, boorish, jabber box off the first water. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. For those not in the know, Asperger’s is a high-functional type of autism. Namely, those that make their way in the world by abiding to their personal rules that guide them through the day. Like most of us, which means we don’t call for V-E-R-N when Tom Cruise rifles through our library. Unlike most of us however, when something occasionally goes awry (as it sometimes does), we try to not get very pissy and only chill when homeostasis is re-established. When the flow is restored. No. All is well when the system is in place, on certain terms. Take that away and Hail Columbia. In the interim, you can’t talk to the guy. He’s a raging torrent of profanity who looks eager to take a swing at you. Sometimes he does. No matter. He’s pesky. He means well overall. And if he doesn’t shut his trap when all’s on the level again YOU’RE gonna get ready at bat.
Gupta was kinda like that to me (especially considering how he wielded his mop). Pallana was mouthy, sour and the ideal Spielbergian avatar as emotional center for Viktor’s chorus. He was my fave character, though not at first. He reminded me a bit too much of my proto-Rain Man co-worker (do not ever f*ck with the guy’s system about stacking pots. I have nine fingers now. Kidding. Eight fingers and a thumb). Eventually my patience was rewarded. Gupta’s sagacity reflected Viktor’s trevails, but in a subtle, rather crafty way. Gupta’s presence was a slow build. A very slow build. Like Vik, get patient. Don’t stack the pots yourself. Just listen to the scamp; he knows sh*t. Viktor’s good at listening. With Gupta, Viktor/Hanks learned how to be selective in what to listen too. We eventually learn through Pallana’s ultra-subtle acting/characterization that prickly can often be dismissed beyond empathy and wisdom. That being said, I learned how to replace the detergent block in the dish machine to make those agony-inducing, digital bleeping screams go away for a while. Viktor learned fast to whom should be heard.
Terminal might be the most angular film Spielberg ever cut, and maybe on purpose. Couldn’t escape the feeling of a message being conveyed. Not sure of the message, but so much of the film seemed deliberate. That’s not bad thing; angular does not necessarily mean absent of nuance. The supporting chorus paired against Viktor’s crafty self cured that…with patience. Still, beyond any obvious human condition thang and Speilberg trademark humanity, Terminal was approaching some kind of statement. Again, not sure what, but the smell of that lingered. Might’ve had to do with how clever the movie played out. That deliberate feeling reflected when Viktor REDACTED his adopted home. It felt like a crafty descent into being clever. The entire film is clever in a very cheeky way, but it takes aeons to figure that out. That being said, Terminal is a voyage into the human condition, stuffed illegally into the overhead compartment with a lot of emotion, coat-tugging, willful disappointment, a lame Catherine Zeta-Jones and a dedicated appreciation for jazz. Something for everyone. Just keep your ears as open as your eyes. And mind the pots.
In hindsight, Spielberg’s 1989 misfire Always (which I enjoyed, thanks to the great cast replete with the likes of Dreyfuss, Goodman, Hunter and Keith David [!]) feels like a dry run for Terminal‘s story of being “lost” and eventually “finding the way again” metaphor. Sure, it was a 15 year gestation, but certain things need to take their good ol’ time. In that aspect Terminal was a minor miracle. A tale of naked human emotion that didn’t need Kleenex. Instead of rubbing your palms together, genuflecting and demanding of the sky, “What does it all mean?” we got, “Huh…” and (hopefully) later, “Ohhh.” Then break out the peanuts, please.
Airports tend to be dehumanizing, as I said. We’re all but airfares and lemmings. That actual building, the one embedded into concrete is the real master of air travel. Public charging stations, fees for fees, Dan Brown paperbacks with Hanks’ mug on the cover and all them cat o’ nine tails upon the Carlin-esque pre-boarding process. After watching The Terminal, I took some small solace in knowing I wasn’t all alone in such massive spaces, whether in major hub Salt Lake or parking lot Durango, CO (with or within the lost single-serving). Sure, we see the passing parade at the time. On the streets, in a mall, even on FaceBook. But for a singularity of purpose—getting the f*ck away—enjoy a layover.
That might’ve been the message I was grafting onto the character study that was The Terminal. Could’ve sworn I heard something…
Oh yeah. That return flight home.
You ever get lucky on a flight and have the entire row to yourself? Me neither, but en route back from Colorado I scored the next best thing: an empty seat between my rump and another poor schlub stuck on the same red eye. Never caught his name, but I remember being the first to suggest that we slap the armrests back and get some breathing room.
He was a software developer, from Seattle (hmm) on some junket and claimed feeling like he was paying rent here with so many whistle stops. I told him about me being a recent college grad and where I was departing from. From Montrose, CO to Salt Lake City—pushing three hours with the headwind—we chatted and joked about (then early) Internet tech, family, the delights of modern air travel, college and I shared my tale about my single-serving friend. Both our arms were crooked over the vacant headrest. We we able to swivel our legs inwards to maintain circulation as well as avoiding a brusque encounter with the errant beverage cart. The time flew. We had a grand conversation. Amazing what a bit of legroom could do. Best return flight ever.
He asked me about the Black Canyon. Always wanted to hike in Colorado but duty calls. He asked me if I recommended the Canyon to meet his curiosity. I ended that hike wheezing so hard I lost my cigarettes halfway up the ascent and found myself sucking on an oxygen mask like Ginger Lynn readying the money shot.
Of course I said yes. Wear the proper shoes. Worn out Doc Martin’s make for lousy climbing. You heard it here and it was the 90s.
You may now return your flight attendant to her full, upright position.
Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Be patient, my friends. The payoff will come. Hanks is a good actor. He doesn’t push and pull. He’s lost but hopeful. He’s patient. He’s a good listener. Be like Hanks.
Steve is also hopeful. Also patient. A good listener. He makes nice movies. His win awards. Good luck being like Steve.
“America is closed.” Says it all.
BORDERS. Kind of on the nose there. But I do miss that chain, sorry. I have another story to tell there about how I got married. I just need to see the proper movie to introduce that rant. I am strict.
“She’s a Trekkie!” No…way.
I got a feeling that Viktor’s awkward posture was a ruse. Can’t put a finger on how, though.
“I hate Tuesdays!”
Always took a shine to a resourceful hero type. Must be latent “MacGyver” nostalgia/fandom.
“He love that goat.” Wink.
That being noted, we got some odd humor going on here. Uneasy, jittery. Post-911 perhaps? Again?
“You don’t like fish.”
This is the polar opposite of Munich, right? Right?!?
“Success.” Irony not lost.
If you thought one was bad, try dealing with Seven Psychopaths, Clarice.
Shad “Bow Wow” Moss, Chi McBride, Meagan Good, Kellita Smith, Wesley Johnathan and Nick Cannon, with Khleo Thomas, Rick Gonzalez, Marcus T Paulk, Brandon T Jackson and Jurnee Smollott.
X and his buddies dominate their local roller rink with their groovy moves and sweet speed. But when the crew’s home base goes out of business, they have to look for another hangout. What else are they gonna do with the rest of their summer? Jump rope?
Well, there’s that Sweetwater Rink on the other side of town. If they wanna roll, that’s the place to be. And they soon discover a whole new, upscale joint that is the stuff of skaters’ dreams, complete with a high end snack bar, video games, some randy guy renting skates and this master skater dude with his crew who need to be take taken down a peg.
Aww skate skate skate!
I remember the local roller rink from my youth.
The place looked like a low slung hangar. It screamed mid-70s, and smelled like it, too. Burnt orange carpets surrounding the skate rental. A snack bar that more resembled the slop line at a prison rather than a shiny shiny promising hot pizza. On the perimeter there were tables for birthday parties that smelled like feet and a small video game arcade (I f*cking rocked TimePilot) that also smelled like feet. All of it surrounded by gliding and stuttering pre-pubers and churning teens alike on smooth, gleaming, lacquered maple, slick and slippery for maximum skating speed that I never achieved, clumsy dolt kid I was.
Good times, good times.
Let me reel it back. The first time I roller skated was when I was seven. It was for a b’day party, and on the rink I had the the tendency to cling to the wall like it was the last life preserver on the Titanic. I had all the grace of an asthmatic giraffe, and toppled over like one, too. A lot. I found it terribly unfair. I couldn’t skate. I was bloody seven. I barely had the bike’s training wheels peeled away. I remember equal parts embarrassed and upset with the birthday boy, him a skating whiz and then I a total spazz caroming off the cinder block walls to the latest Michael Jackson single (“Beat It”). I tried to have fun, then TimePilot beckoned. That and the ice cream cake. Those were nice. My skating experience not so much.
Still despite my klutziness I was amazed by all the other skaters, rolling free, making it look easy, sporting cool moves in the middle of the rink as if possessed by Nureyev’s ghost. I wish knew how to hold my balance, because seasoned skaters made it look so fun, so cool, so f*cking effortless. Remember I was suffering from two-wheel envy; eight wheels was akin to deification. Or a source of envy. Pick your poison.
Back when I was seven and stumbling along the rink’s wall I fast learned what freedom was. To move like water. To slide fast. To spin a triple Lutz when I only know such a thing to be a quality potato chip. I was a clumsy arse. I wanted to be so slick. But I was seven. The smack-downs I was often privilege to by the resident elementary school long riders uncovered the mystery as to what happens to a face when it meets the piss puck in your average urinal. It smells like Mountain Dew Code Red, by the way. Being slick was not part of the equation.
My humiliation and frustration on the rink was a keen metaphor for breaking away from the crowd and my humdrum, sometimes pucky existence. Wanna pick up speed? Run, skate, do something. Just don’t sit there. It’s a positive and useful message, but I sucked at skating (did I mention that?) and was unable to reach escape velocity.
A little too deep, like some well-maintained cess pool? Maybe, I dunno. But even since my troubled adventure out on the rink I cringe every time I hear “Beat It.” That’s how sweet I thought roller skating was. Is.
Speaking of sweet…
Set the wayback machine to 1978. Disco. Funk music. Knee high tube socks. Roller skating. Especially roller skating.
Roller skating. The pinnacle of fun and coolness for Xavier “X” Smith (Bow Wow) and his buddies, motormouthed Junior (Jackson), nerdy Boo (Paulk), hapless Naps (Gonzalez), and Mr Laid-Back Mike (Thomas). Together they are the kings of the Palisades Garden roller rink. And school’s out. It’s summer! What to do, what to do?
Duh, what else. Lace up and go roll and bounce.
Well it’s a short-lived summer. The Garden closed down, and X and his crew has no local joint to roll and bounce. What to do for real?
Junior knows about the new rink on the other side of town, the appealing sounding Sweetwater Rink. It might be a drag to bus it on out to the North Side, but a skater’s gotta do what a skater’s gotta do. So X and his pals—along with the new girl in town, the skating impaired Tori (Smollett)—make their way to Sweetwater. And what a revelation it is.
The joint is swank. Top of the line. High tech sound system. Neon everywhere. Huge rink. X and co feel like small fish in a big pond. No matter. Skating is skating. And no-one is getting in the way of these kids from the wrong side of town having a proper summer.
Well, except maybe the resident ace skater Sweetness (Johnathan) and his buddies. What’s up with these scruffy kids from the South Side? Oh, you think you can skate, do you? Well we got this here Roller Jam Skate-Off coming up. Wanna prove you’re smooth? See you then, suckers.
What a bully. X and his friends aren’t gonna take this challenge lying down. Sweetwater is now just as much their rink as it is Sweetness’. The “Garden Boys” will give him what for.
Just as soon as Naps gets some right sized skates…
Roll Bounce is nostalgia for people who weren’t there. That’s fun.
This movie is kinda like a diet cola, jive Dazed And Confused. Another period piece about high schoolers in the 70’s. Summertime and a quest for truth and fun. No weed or beer in Bounce, but we do have a splendid soundtrack. Donna Summer rocks. So does Bill Withers.
All right, enough gushing. But Bounce does have a lightweight resemblance to Dazed, and Bounce is just as fun. Less heavy navel gazing. And plenty of scenes of sweet humor. Not out of being sappy, mind you. Just a simple breath of fresh air that seems to be lacking in these days’ “coming of age” movies. It doesn’t always have to be terse with an arch message. It can be fluffy and still retain it’s “struggling teens” motif. I’m saying Bounce claims it doesn’t have to be about angst and fear of aging. Sometimes it can be about buddies, girl trouble and trying to have that perfect summer. That being said is where the Dazed comparison ends, maybe barring the eclectic cast.
And the cast is stellar. I know it may sound funny to praise Snoop Dogg’s barely adolescent protege as the ideal representation of everyyouth, but young Bow Wow (who has the best rubbery expressions) truly carries this movie, ably complemented by the smart cast. This is an ensemble piece, and the crazy quilt of the supporting cast buoys Bow Wow’s earnest performance. Okay, and Smollett plays Watson to Bow Wow’s Holmes quite well, too. More on that later. Sit down.
What I liked a lot about the cast is that they often perilously teetered on stereotypes/one note characters that afflict a lot of “coming of age” movies. And I hate that phrase. It sounds all treacly and Hallmark card, and for real, much coming can happen in a single film (not that kind of film, you silly goose), right? From what I’ve seen in COA movies is that the teens come out a little wiser, and maybe the hero gets the girl. Just keep it simple, direct and honest: it’s a f*cking teen film, all right? And thank you. We need fewer experiments in semantics, these days especially. Did you catch inauguration night?
Ahem. Sorry. Tangent. Happens here a lot. Moving on.
Yeah so our cast of characters (and indeed they are) may be old hat (e.g.: the wiseass, the dork, etc), but they funny old hat. It’s amazing what scenarists and casting directors can do with the right actors. That being said, another cool thing with our cast is that they’re really funny. For real, and disarming, too. Almost all the lines come across as improv (and perhaps they were), comfy as these kids’ performances were. It makes a predictable movie interesting. Or at least hold your attention.
I want to get on to the tech stuff for a bit. Of course I do, but fear not I got more to dish about the cast later on.
As I way saying, Bounce is a period piece. Now I’ll admit I could barely walk (let alone skate) when the movie’s story plays out. But that’s kind of the fun of period movies: like I said above, it’s nostalgia for most folks who we’re even there. That and everything is a megadose of the pop culture. If you passively did your homework—absorbed stuff over the years—you can grok to any period flick without ever being there. That is, of course, you let yourself go along with the ride.
Bounce did this effortlessly (not unlike my birthday host did on his skates), and a great deal of this smoothness is thanks to another curious aspect about period pieces: there’s that flood of pop culture touchstones, subtle as neon. Not so with Bounce. Apart from the fashions, hairstyles and tech, this could’ve happened in the backyard of your youth, regardless of the decade.
I feel that most period films—I’m not talking The Age Of Innocence here—like American Graffiti, Forrest Gump and Boogie Nights are broad enough to please people who had “been there, done that.” I don’t mean that in a cynical sense (probably a first here for me). I’m talking about a familiarity in a sort of universal sense, without any homework. Hey, you hadn’t have to been on a shrimp boat to understand Forrest’s motives. I ain’t about the shrimpin’ bidness; it’a about honoring his lost friend’s wishes. We’ve probably all been there and done that at one point in our wasted lives.
Other such films—Fiddler On The Roof, The Sting andAmerican Hustle for example—kinda play out like paging through Thoreau’s Walden, which to me is the ultimate example of “you had to be there” to appreciate it. Now some may scream, “Hey blogger, where’s yer pants?” And after that: “Those other film were comedies (or at least comedic), and who doesn’t like a good laugh? Laughter is infectious. So’s this abbess on my foot, but I don’t feel the need to share that. Sort of.”
True. But the second trio of flicks had comedic elements also. And I’m willing to bet a silk pyjama that no matter how sweet those titles were, it might’ve required some belated stops at Wikipedia to better “get it.” And let’s face it, Hassidic wedding traditions, bunco and the porn industry might, might not be accessible to all. Ever if they’d “been there.”
Whew. That being said and getting back to the rink, the comic elements of Bounce (of which there are many) are universal, and therein lies the appeal even if you can’t skate (neon sign over the blogger’s head. No, I won’t let that go). There’s a bittersweet innocence here, especially when we learn about X’s personal tragedy. Face it folks, and sorry to be so abrupt but as soon as you accept the truth the better we’ll all be for it. Meaning no matter how sunny the plot seems, there’s gotta be some conflict to drive the plot along.
Despite Bounce being a bright movie (and I don’t mean smart), there are a few nuggets here and there that pull us away from the day-glo colors. There is an undercurrent of blue belying the alpha plot. Thanks to the smart pacing (a rarity I’ve found with most “teen films.” I mean, as fun as Ferris Beuller’s Day Off was, it was a staggering on and off when you think about it (don’t. It’ll ruin the experience), this melancholy plays under the surface. Sure, X and his pals are a riot, but you get the feeling early on in the flick that all is not well in the wood. This underlying tension makes the funny all the funnier. Hard to have the sweet without the bitter. It’s a principle of drama, even when that drama creeps just below.
*wipes sweat from…wherever.*
Back to a pair of character dynamics. One I promised, the other needs to be addressed. And don’t you think for a beat that I don’t know that this installment is stretching. Had a lot of sh*t about “period films” and Bounce was the ideal platform. Besides anyway, yer still here. Loser.
It’s understood X and his crew blend well together. They have to; they’re the chorus. You know? Greek theatre? Aw what do you know from nothin’? Maybe just as much as me about roller skating (no I will not let that go).
But anyway, Tori’s Robin to X’s Batman. Jurnee was a find. Here we have a smart girl, draped in naivete, polar opposite from X. She’s the new kid in town. He’s a fixture. She sucks at skating (harmful to her self-esteem). X is a whiz on eight wheels. She’s practical. X has his head in the clouds, or at least those monster earphones and his skating obsession. It’s a nice change of pace that the cute girl (but not too cute) tries time and again to bring the boy hero back to earth. And never once you get any real sexual tension between Tori and X and his gang. Quite the opposite; Tori can trade barbs with Junior faster that you can say, “Yo mama…” In the final analysis, you can see X and Tori becoming best buds, and needing precious little bracing.
*groans. Time fer the cans*
Wait wait wait! That other bit, the one I was gonna address. It’s vital. To the drama and sh*t. Quit stomping already. And let go me shirt.
Chi McBride is a highly respected character actor. In Bounce that’s hard to argue. I first caught a glimpse of the man mopping up on The John Larroquette Show as Heavy Gene, the janitor sage of the bus terminal. His character was funny without being funny. Not so far a strecth an X’s dad in Bounce. Here McBride plays the “cool dad” i the very best way: by not being cool. I figured since REDACTED, Dad as Dad has been muted, yet still trying his best to keep X and his lil’ sis grounded. He’s the major source of serious drama in an otherwise fluffy film. Again and like I said, Bounce is all about the casting. And this a character drama as the nougat wrapped around by a summery story regarding skating. There might be a degree of “smart cheeze” draping the movie, but it makes the wavering all the easier to swallow. How’s that for the biggest line of crap in this entire installment? Thank you.
So back to and finally, Bounce is a sweet treat (especially with the excellent camera work with the dance movies. Hell, considering that there better be). As I said earlier, Bounce is no Dazed And Confused but their tenor is similar and on the mark. Simple and fun. Nostalgia. It works for everyone. Regarding movies, nostalgia doesn’t truly matter against a smart film ethos. Which Bounce has in spades.
Figure of speech. Oh well. Commence with the hurling. I should be used to it by now.
Y’all clung to the wall too, right?
Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Like I said, it’s simple and fun. Despite all my drunken histrionics sometimes it’s best to just let go of the wall and your ass to hit the floor. One more time. That’s a lyric. From the power pop band Earth Quake. It’s about an “all skate.”. From the 70s. Anybody there?
“A moment of silence for her face, please.”
I remember the old “street light rule.” Best be home before they light up, or else.
“I do have good hair!”
Best product placement I’ve seen in a long time.
“Somebody fan her, please?”
I heart the BeeGees, so screw you.
“Your mouth looks like an explosion in a tin foil factory!” Let the games begin.
The smashing the car scene was a little over the top. Effective, but over the top.
“Hey, if you’re dead can I get your Atari?”
A good chunk of this movie is a drawn out game of The Dozens. What’s The Dozens? Well The Dozens is a game. And how I f*ck yo mama is a goddam shame.
“I’m the king of this here flo’, ya dig?” We dig, bro. We dig. Just keep that ‘fro away from us.
That being said, I swear it’s all about the cool hair here. As it should be.
“And who left the white boy?”
It’s a case of mistaken Identity. And it’s unfortunate we can’t precisely divine whose identity might be mistaken…as the killer.